Flight Review: Going budget from Phuket to Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia (AK 823)

When flying around Asia, the difference in price between budget carriers (Scoot, Tiger and Air Asia) and everyone else can be staggering. On the day I was flying, you were looking at flights one-tenth the price to fly with Air Asia versus Malaysian Airlines, or an indirect competitor. So the question is, for a short haul flight between countries – is there any real reason not to save the money? I flew the 90 minute service from Phuket to Kuala Lumpur last month to find out.

Carrier: Air Asia
Route: Phuket, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AK 823)
Seat: 27C (aisle in a 3-3 layout)
Aircraft Type: A320-200
On time? Landed and deboarded 5 mins early

Checking In and Baggage

Check In with Air Asia was fairly quick and manageable, since most people don’t have bags to check; that’s one benefit of charging extortionate prices to put a bag under the plane. Though as the person doing ID verification struggled with the process in general and slowed things down, I would have hated to go through the process if it was busy. They also didn’t give me any bag tag for my bag, nor did they add it to my print out ticket, which I found strange. It’s possible it was attached to the e-ticket though.

About the Departure Airport: Phuket, Thailand

There’s a lot of food and drink options at the airport to enjoy, across two floors. As any airport, its a bit overpriced (especially after enjoying the bargain prices you’ll find in Thailand), but there’s plenty of options across all cuisine preferences, be it local Thai street food or Burger King. Or perhaps some Ramen takes your fancy. Good spot for a last minute gift and of course duty free too.¬†Immigration was quick and easy, though look out of rude tourists keen to cut the queue.

Boarding the Aircraft

They zone board, which I was impressed by – it’s something all carriers should be doing. Though when they started boarding zone 3 before 2 had finished, any good it may have done was obliterated and we were left queuing in the bridge. Before I mentioned the plus of expensive baggage. The minus? Everyone has large carry-ons. So, by the time I boarded, there was no room up top for my bag. When you don’t have any real leg room, it does make it a more uncomfortable flight – even if you’re only flying with a backpack.

Airplane Comfort & Service

The plane felt reasonably new, and the seats were comfortably enough for the short flight time. The leg room, however, really is terrible, probably even worse than Scoot – but only just. And it’s exacerbated by the fact much of my potential leg room was occupied by my backpack. As for the service, however, I found staff on ground an in air to be incredibly friendly and easy to deal with; quick to answer questions, and even if they weren’t able to immediately action a request, they did their best in the short flight time.

In-Flight Entertainment

Air Asia offer some free in flight entertainment, with wi-fi available for purchase, on many flights – but not this one. They’re also adamant about no electronic devices being in use during take off and landing. They want it off totally, not just on flight mode. There’s even a light next to no smoking sign directing us as such. Which was on for the whole flight. So you might want to bring a book or a magazine. Still, I enjoyed a Netflix series on my phone for most of the flight with little concern.

Food and Drink

Those who had pre-purchased a meal were looked after first by the meal service, and then food and drink was available on demand shortly thereafter. Due to the short flight time, however, they didn’t seem to get to everyone. Prices are in Malaysian ringgit.

On Arrival in Malaysia

They didn’t give out any customs forms on board the aircraft; but you don’t need one. Everything is digitised at Kuala Lumpur Airport, and you barely need to say a word through security. With an Australian passport in hand, they take your fingerprints and your passport, stamp you and away you go.

Final Thoughts

For a flight as short as this, Air Asia’s budget spoils are of little concern. By the time you’d normally start to get frustrated by the lack of leg room, or complimentary drink, you have already landed. And when you’re literally paying a fraction of the price of the non-budget services, there’s no reason not to fly with them. Long haul flights, however, are always going to be a different conversation…

To book a flight with Air Asia, head to their official website.

The writer flew at his own expense.


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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.